by Neema Mgana
Published on: Apr 30, 2003
Type: Opinions

The unprecedented human tragedy caused by HIV/AIDS on the African continent is one that can no longer be ignored. Sub-Saharan Africa has particularly been held hostage by this disease. Estimates show that nearly two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by the epidemic and over 90 percent of children orphaned in the world by AIDS live in the same region of Africa (UNAIDS Epidemic Update, 2004). With such daunting facts, it is important to recognize the growing numbers of community-based organizations that rise to the occasion in combating HIV/AIDS -- especially in caring for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Psychological and economic deprivation among orphaned and vulnerable children increases in Africa as a result of a lack of adequate social welfare services, especially among girls who are left to care for their siblings on a full-time basis, and reduce their chance for schooling. AIDS has reduced the ability of governments to care for the psychological and economic needs of the children let alone protect the children. As such, communities have become the primary caregivers of children whose parents have HIV or have died from AIDS.

Community-based organizations are often formed by an individual (or a group of individuals) who have no resources other than dedication and compassion to help children in their community. Although often lacking funds, these organizations have been successful in various activities, including raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, building support groups within the community, and including women and youth in leadership roles within the organization. What these organizations lack is the ability to communicate information/results about their activities, build partnerships with other community-based organizations, and raise funds and access to evaluation tools for sustainability of their work (currently, funds for these organizations are often from foreign sources).

The organization called the African Regional Youth Initiative, which I am involved with, has the mission of changing this. We believe that community-based organizations have an ability to work with the people they serve and are therefore able to form a unique level of trust not offered by programs designed by governments or institutions.

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